MARJAH, Afghanistan --
Marines with Combat Engineer Platoon, 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines, began the final stages of a patrol base expansion project here, Sept. 10.
The month-long expansion project is part of the battalion’s force protection campaign to better distribute the unit’s manpower and insert Marines into highly saturated enemy territory.
The campaign allows them to better protect defenseless civilians and farmers by eliminating Taliban threats in the area.
During the project, Gunnery Sgt. Brian K. Lee, the staff non-commissioned officer-in-charge of the battalion’s combat engineers, said his Marines and sailors met heavy enemy resistance during the initial building stage, working countless hours to meet deadlines and engage the enemy.
“We are working around the clock,” said Lance Cpl. Ethan B. Schrick, a battalion combat engineer. “We’re getting a lot of resistance from the enemy out here. We were getting shot at every day, but it died down here toward the end. I think they realize we’re not going anywhere, and we have no problem putting up a fight to prove it.”
When combat engineers arrive at a building site, they start with nothing protecting them but their armored vehicles. Without hesitation, they step out of that safe-haven and begin building walls, watch towers, latrines and all of the basic facilities Marines need to survive.
In addition to the 100-plus-degree temperatures, Marines lug a full combat load: flak jackets, kevlar helmets, ammunition and packs.
“We’re in full gear the entire time,” said Schrick. “It’s an entire 50 to 60 pounds of gear on your body. It’s not your every day construction project. Your mobility is slim to none and it is awkward trying to move in it.”
“You don’t hear of too many construction guys back in the states complaining about being shot at trying to build a Wal-Mart or something,” added Lance Cpl. Jacob M Ferguson, a combat engineer with the battalion. “And if they did, I’m sure they would probably walk off the job, but we are here to get a job done. We knew what we were getting in to.”
Aside from building the patrol base, the Marine engineers lent a hand to local civilians. In one instance, the Marines helped install a gravel bridge with a culvert system, which allows the flow of water into irrigation canals while permitting large farm equipment and livestock to cross.
With construction in its final stages, Lee reflected on his Marines’ dedication to the mission.
“This is probably the best platoon I’ve had in my 14 years in the Marine Corps,” said Lee. “This is a fine group of men.”
As the sun began to set, the Marines called it a day. One by one, as they entered the newly constructed safety of their HESCO reinforced walls and took off their mud- encrusted gear, chunks of dirt hit the ground. Knowing they would have another 18-hour day ahead of them, the Marines ate some dinner and went to sleep immediately, preparing for the next day’s work.